In a previous article this off-season, we discussed the necessary components of a rebuilding process for the New York Jets. When citing an example from how they quickly turned a disastrous 2005 season into a productive 2006, we mentioned younger players “making the jump” and having career years. A few examples of this in 2006 were Jerricho Cotchery becoming a capable, productive starting receiver, Victor Hobson becoming a playmaking linebacker, Bryan Thomas having a career high in sacks and Kerry Rhodes putting together a Pro-Bowl caliber season at safety.
The Jets aren’t going to be able to fill all their holes via free agency and the draft, there are simply too many. They are going to need young players currently on the roster to take their games to the next level the way Jeremy Kerley did in 2012, as one of the team’s few bright spots on offense.
Kerley having 56 receptions, 827 yards and 2 touchdowns in last year’s passing offense is a borderline miracle. He needs to continue building on that production because nothing is guaranteed with Santonio Holmes coming off such serious surgery and the rest of the wide receiver position in flux. Kerley showed he was capable of being more than a pure slot receiver and hopefully new offensive coordinator Marty Mornhingweg is more creative at using him than Tony Sparano was. But what rostered players outside of Kerley will the Jets need to make “the jump”?
Bilal Powell - Powell was fairly productive as a role player last season, finishing with 437 rushing yards, 140 receiving yards and 4 touchdowns while averaging 4.0 yards per carry. He showed better vision and quickness than Shonn Greene which isn’t saying all that much. The Jets will likely pair him with a low-cost veteran and a mid-round draft pick in 2013. Powell’s ceiling isn’t very high but that doesn’t mean he can’t work to being a back who averages 4.3 yards per carry on 12-15 carries per week, while giving the Jets a reliable checkdown option in the passing game.
* Schematically, Joe McKnight is a terrific fit in Marty Mornhinweg’s offense but he has shown zero ability to stay healthy, protect the football and learn the offense well enough to expect him to handle major role. Hopefully, he can change that in 2013 but it remains a longshot.
Austin Howard - Howard was generally a pleasant surprise in 2012. He was a very good run-blocker while showing inconsistencies in pass protection. Regardless, considering the Jets pulled him off the scrap heat, he was a serviceable starter at right tackle. Barring something unforeseen, Howard will be brought back despite being a Restricted Free Agent. He is a good fit in Mornhinweg’s scheme (which he is already familiar with from his time in Philadelphia) because of his athleticism and how the quick hit passing game will help mask his deficiencies. With a year of starting experience under his belt and now playing in a system better suited to his skill set, Howard should only get better in 2013.
Stephen Hill - The rookie was an all-around disappointment in 2012, looking the part of a raw receiver who played in a triple-option offense in college. Hill’s route running was incredibly shaky, he struggled with physical corners and couldn’t catch the ball with any consistency. There were a few flashes of the big ability the Jets drafted him for but overall he looked nowhere near ready to be a full time player. The Jets would be wise to bring back Braylon Edwards on a cheap contract to help mentor Hill and lessen the burden on him. Hill needs to start out as a role player this year and then gradually build himself into a starter as the finer points of his game improve. If the Jets can get a consistent, viable deep threat from Hill in a role that only requires 25-35 snaps per game that would be a step in the right direction for 2013.
Quinton Coples - Unlike Hill, Coples had an encouraging rookie season. He came on strong to finish with 5.5 sacks in a limited role, showing the immense physical talent the Jets drafted him for. His role should increase substantially this season and there is no logical reason he shouldn’t be hovering around 10-12 sacks in his second year with more playing time. The Jets must support him with better outside linebackers and if Kenrick Ellis or Sione Pou’ha can provide consistent play at nose tackle it will help free up Coples and Muhammad Wilkerson from double teams.
Demario Davis - The projected starter at inside linebacker alongside David Harris. Davis didn’t do much in 2012. He has good speed for his position and the ability to be strong in coverage, something the Jets desperately need. Davis looked overwhelmed by the scheme last season and frequently looked to be running around with his head cut off but hopefully with a full season and off-season under his belt can be a competent starter in 2013.
Antonio Allen - It is hard to see LaRon Landry returning to the team in 2013, which should open up a bigger role for the second year player. Allen was a situational player last season and showed an ability to get after the passer on blitzes while struggling with coverage assignments. Similar to Landry, Allen is built to be an in the box safety. The Jets may have gotten a steal with Allen in the 7th round last year, hopefully he can deliver if given the opportunity.